April 11, 2018
Indiana author Gary Wittmann served as a Special Education teacher, winning the Learning Disabilities Teacher of the Year for the state of Indiana. In 2007! Gary describes himself as a professional storyteller, puppeteer, poet, artist, illustrator, children’s author, and a Dove Award National Recording Artist. He is widely respected and recorded and now devotes his time to writing books such as YOU’RE GOING TO BE GRANDPARENTS, DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY, ALWAYS ROOM FOR ONE MORE IN GOD’S FAMILY, NINJA CHICKEN, FIFTH GRADE MONSTER SCHOOL, HOW TO BE A HERO AS A TEACHER, FAMOUS FANTASTIC FABULOUS FAST TURTLE, YO MA MA, DR. SEUSS MADE ME DO IT, PALEO DIET SUPER FOOD PLAN, UNDERWEAR NERD AND THE BOOGER BOYS FARTBALL among others.
Noting the topics of Gary’s output it is easy to appreciate that he champions the underdog. In FIFTH GRADE TIMOTHY BOTTOMS RULES UNDERSTANDING BULLIES Gary changes the ‘self help’ book format so often used for the topic of bullying and instead makes use of a short novella – his gift for storytelling makes the message of the book (how to cope with and overcome bullying). The tone of the book about stuttering Timothy is warmly set in the opening paragraphs: ‘Timothy tried to concentrate on the cups in front of him, but it was difficult with his older brother whistling and tossing clothes on the bed. Normally, Timothy could focus all of his attention on the stacking game. He’d simply zero in on the blue cups as he laid them out: four cups for the base of the pyramid, three cups for the second row, then two cups, then the last cup. Build up the stack, then quick as a jet streaking through the sky, collapse all the cups into one neat pile. Bam. Done. He could do it in three seconds flat. But this time, as he placed each cup, the words leaving tomorrow and enlisted kept pounding in his ears. It was distracting. “When I get home, you’ll probably hold the world record for cup stacking,” Timothy’s brother, Michael, said. He plopped down on top of the bed and grinned at Timothy. Timothy scowled and swiped at the cups. Summer was ending, fifth grade started in three days, and Michael was leaving for a year. Timothy still couldn’t believe he had gone and enlisted in the Army. He stared at the floor for a second and then at Michael. “Wh- wh- who is going to protect m- m- me when you’re gone?” Timothy asked. His face glowed red. He hated when he stuttered around Michael, but he hated it even more when it happened around the kids at school. It didn’t happen all the time, but the kids acted like it did, and they weren’t exactly understanding about it. One day, in fourth grade, Devin and his goons had followed Timothy around the playground, stuttering the whole time. It didn’t matter that Timothy didn’t say anything and hadn’t even been stuttering that day. By the end of recess, he was in tears and his voice failed him for the rest of the day. Michael sat down on the floor next to Timothy. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “You are a smart, talented, funny kid, and just because you may struggle to talk sometimes, doesn’t mean you are any less of a person. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.” Timothy shrugged. “Yeah, but it doesn’t help that I’m short, too.”
Gary offers a plot synopsis that outlines the story well – ‘When fifth grader Timothy Bottoms goes to school on the first day wearing his older brother’s red tie and gray vest, he endures a day full of insults by the school’s biggest bully, Devin. But Timothy is determined to wear the same tie and vest every day of fifth grade. If he does, maybe his older brother will come home safely from the Army. Eventually, the bullying gets to be too much, though, and Timothy is tempted to break his promise to himself and his brother. Can anything convince him to leave the tie and vest on?’
This is a fine addition to the library for teaching disabilities and behavioral flaws. Gary Wittmann is one fine writer and teacher. Highly recommended. Grady Harp,